I recently went to Liverpool to see an exhibition of just a few of the famous terracotta warriors which were discovered in China in 1974. They are life sized, and there were more than 8,000 of them buried in the tomb of the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang.
Horses and chariots were buried along with the Emperor and the huge army of warriors, supposedly to protect him in the afterlife. Horses were killed before burial, as were the people who constructed the warriors, to keep the burial site secret. We had to wonder about how those who killed the builders of the life sized soldiers managed not to be killed themselves….and who by? Who killed the killers? Did they get away with it?
I personally came to the conclusion that the Emperor must have been a revolting little despot, reading details of his harsh authoritarian rule, but I was fascinated to learn about how the warriors were made.
I studied pottery as my main course at teacher training college and was always a more accomplished and satisfactory hand potter; I wasn’t very good at throwing, using the wheel. I was curious to find out how these life sized figures were made, and sure enough, it was by using similar hand pottery techniques to those I’d learned…..but on a far larger scale.
The amount of clay to be prepared for each figure must have been phenomenal, when multiplied by 8,000 – and that excludes models of horses and other animals which went down into the burial pit. It took several gangs of men on a conveyor belt style production line to produce as warrior. The last thing to be fixed on was the head.
Then there was the firing. How large were the kilns they used? And how efficient did they have to be at reaching the right temperature? The skills used were undoubtedly sophisticated for the date this all took place – around 210-209 BCE!
The figures are convincing and their faces wonderfully shaped into different expressions. A very interesting, enlightening exhibition, where I learned a lot more about Chinese dynasties and cultures.
But I was dismayed that the horses and the potters had to bumped off too.